On the 22nd of November 2003, University of North Dakota student, Dru Katrina Sjodin was abducted from the parking lot at Grand Forks’ Columbia Mall. Dru was only 22 years old when she was kidnapped and murdered. She had been working that afternoon at the Victoria’s Secret store. When her shift ended, she did some shopping at the mall and then headed through the parking lot toward her car.
Dru was on her cell phone as she was walking, talking to her boyfriend, Chris Lang. Lang heard Dru say “Okay, okay,” and then the call suddenly ended. But that wasn’t the last time he got a call from her phone.
At this point, Lang was not aware that anything was wrong. He assumed the call had just simply been dropped. He didn’t realize his girlfriend had been kidnapped while they were on the phone together. A while later, he received another call.
It was coming from Dru’s cell phone.
All he could hear was the sound of static or wind and the tones of buttons being pushed.
Dru was scheduled to work at her second place of employment that night, the El Roco nightclub. She never showed up. That’s when her family and friends knew something was seriously wrong.
Hundreds of people from the community came together to search for the UND student in the coming weeks and months. Abandoned buildings and surrounding fields were all searched around the Crookston, Minnesota area near where her last phone call was traced.
Authorities began combing the mall’s CCTV footage for anyone who might look suspicious on the day Dru went missing. They noticed a man wandering around the mall, but not shopping. He was watching the other shoppers from a bench near the exit. That’s when he seemed to have spotted a young, blonde-haired woman and followed her out of the mall.
Police were able to determine the man’s name: Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. He was a registered sex offender in the state of Minnesota.
On the 1st of December, 50-year-old Alfonso Rodriquez Jr. was taken into custody on suspicion of kidnapping.
Rodriguez Jr. had a long criminal history. It began when he was 21 years old, he brandished a knife and assaulted a woman. He was convicted of kidnapping, aggravated assault, and rape. He served 23 years in prison and was released in May of 2003. Rodriguez Jr. had multiple counts of assault on this record. He was required by the state of Minnesota to register as a Level 3 offender.
When being questioned by police regarding the disappearance of Dru Sjodin, Rodriguez Jr. admitted he was in the area of the Columbia Mall that night. He claimed he went to the mall theater to watch a movie. Police discovered the movie he claimed to have watched was not playing at that time, therefore crumbling his alibi.
While searching his vehicle, investigators found a knife covered in a bottle of cleaning solution. A woman’s shoe was also recovered. This shoe, along with another knife found inside the car, had bloodstains that were later matched to the DNA profile of Dru Sjodin. The knife also matched a sheath that was recovered from Dru’s car in the mall parking lot.
But where was Dru herself?
On the 17th of April 2004, the body of a woman was discovered near Crookston, Minnesota. The body was face down, wrapped in a blanket, with her hands tied behind her back. She was only partially clothed and there was evidence that she had been beaten and stabbed.
Rodriguez Jr. lived in Crookston with his mother.
The body was positively identified as Dru Sjodin. Her cause of death was either from a large stab wound to her throat, suffocation from the bag, or exposure to the elements.
Because the victim had been transported by the assailant over state lines, the trial was held in federal court. North Dakota and Minnesota do not have the death penalty, but because the case was taken to the federal level, the death penalty was allowed.
In 2006, Rodriguez Jr. was convicted of the murder, and the following year he was sentenced to death. In 2013 during an interview with Dr. Michael Welner, he finally admitted to killing Dru.
However, his sentencing was overturned in September 2021 as Rodriguez’s mental health evaluation was limited and he potentially could have used an insanity defense in his original trial. He serves his time in the United States Penitentiary in Indiana.
In memory of Dru Sjodin, a memorial garden was set up in her hometown of Pequot Lakes, Minnesota. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act now includes “Dru’s Law” which provides information on the locations of registered sex offenders from around the entire country. This information is accessible to the public.